by Janice McFarlane
At Paston Manor, with Mother
The rasp of the key’s turn in the door
tells me you’re here again.
Another gasp. It locks us in
together. You are so thin,
mother, yet you loom up.
This is my room and it is not. It is yours
and you want me out of it, out and
off to some ‘most worthy’ man, a
man with military arms and alms,
money enough for everything.
You do not think of his warm arms for
me. I squint at your sharp dark
against the light. You pull up a
joint stool and you sit. My
hands are in my lap.
Your hands lie flat but your stick’s
ghost tip-taps, quiet, on the floor.
Will you strike me like you used to?
My head, my neck, my cage of ribs?
Your hands stay in your lap.
If you start to beat me like you did,
I’ll still not shield myself. Instead,
I’ll stare at the small smudge on
the plastered wall behind you.
It’s still there and still can be
The little things I used to see: a bud,
a piece of intricate embroidery, a
tear that might be shed for me.
You look at me and I look at you.
Your eyes are cockle grey,
mine are more blue. I am reflected
back to myself as you are to you.
What is it that you want now?
What should I do? This is my
liberty, where I have none.
The gentlemen lined up for me are
gone. I’ll try their names again:
‘Stephen Scrope’ had sibilance
but the sound was sick. ‘Sir William
Oldhall’ was just a dusty chamber.
Then John clop ‘Clopton’ who had to
hoof on away. No, I said. No and
no and no. And still in my room
which is your room I am free. You
sit on quietly and contemplate me.
I gaze at you, my mother. You are
the more alone and yet you want me
gone. This is it then: what is evidently
true. You want for me the common
good – for which I must thank you.